To the outsiders “everything (ta panta) happens (ginetai) in parables”. -cf Mark 4:11
The Gospel of Mark makes little sense if read as literal history or biography. For example, Jesus is said to have explained to his disciples that he talks in incomprehensible mysteries to the general public in order to deliver divine punishment upon them, not to educate and save them.
And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parables.
And he said unto them, Unto you is given the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all things are done in parables:
that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest haply they should turn again, and it should be forgiven them.
That last verse is a quotation from Isaiah 6. That Isaiah passage speaks of judgment that involves the destruction of the cities of the land of Israel, and from which only a tiny remnant will escape to become the new people of God. It is, of course, nonsense to imagine that Jesus could have always spoken incomprehensibly in public and still have gathered a following of any kind.
(Anyone who has read Henrik Tronier’s Philonic Allegory in Mark* will read nothing new in this post. This post is a simplified repeat of one section of his Tronier’s article, with a slightly modified twist at the end.) [* link downloads a 264 KB PDF file. Source: http://www.pitts.emory.edu/hmpec/docs/TronierPhilonicAllegoryMark.pdf]
But notice that the Isaiah passage speaks of both seeing and hearing, not just hearing. And the words attributed to Jesus are that all things are “done” in parables for the outsiders. We are entitled to think that both actions and words fail to be understood by “outsiders”. And that is just what the preceding verses have demonstrated.
Much earlier, as early as Mark 3:9, the readers of the gospel are prepared for the scene of Jesus delivering parables from the boat in the “sea” of Galilee:
And he spake to his disciples, that a little boat should wait on him because of the crowd, lest they should throng him . . .
Before that moment of need, however, Jesus, like Moses, ascended a mountain, and called to him twelve to be with him and to be sent out to preach. Author and comprehending readers are clearly aware of the Old Testament associations of God calling from mountains to establish his own holy people to be apart from all others.
Then just prior to the chapter on parables the Gospel presents one of its double/bracketed narratives, a narrative about scribes from Jerusalem who believe that Jesus’ miracles, particularly exorcisms, are performed by the power of Satan. Jesus pronounces that these blind accusers will never be forgiven.
but whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin: because they said, He hath an unclean spirit. (Mark 3:29-30)
This narrative is bracketed by another that concludes that Jesus’ natural family and associates are not his “real” family. His blood kin are declared to be outsiders — on the outside and without access to him:
And there come his mother and his brethren; and, standing without, they sent unto him, calling him.
And a multitude was sitting about him; and they say unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee.
And he answereth them, and saith, Who is my mother and my brethren?
And looking round on them that sat round about him, he saith, Behold, my mother and my brethren!
For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.
The narratives are structured as a couplet. Readers are signalled to interpret or understand one through the other. Together, they signal that outsiders fail to understand the things Jesus does. Representative of Jerusalem, the Law, think Jesus is empowered by the Devil; blood kin think he is out of his mind, crazy — not particularly different from being possessed. (We later learn that his brothers are named Jacob, Joseph, Judah and Simeon: “the names themselves convey a close identification with the nation’s foundational past”, comparable to a family of Olsens being given names Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and Franklin, according to Paula Fredriksen in Jesus of Nazareth, p. 240.)
This narrative doublet announces that the traditional Jewish claims to a special status with God — the law (Jerusalem) and blood (family descent) — are insufficient to enable them to understand Jesus. The Jews are left without forgiveness, and remain outsiders in relation to the new people of God, the real community of Jesus, that was signalled with the calling of the twelve on the Sinai-like mountain.
So when we return to that boat that had been called for way back in Mark 3:9, we find Jesus “sitting in the sea” speaking in parables so that the masses who are separated from Jesus on the land cannot understand him.
And again he began to teach by the sea side. And there is gathered unto him a very great multitude, so that he entered into a boat, and sat in the sea; and all the multitude were by the sea on the land.
The sea becomes the way of Jesus and his disciples for bridging Jews and Gentiles. Miracles are performed in doublets: those performed in Jewish areas are performed again across the sea in Gentile lands.
But Jesus says that those who are on the outside do not understand either his words that they hear or his deeds that they see:
. . . unto them that are without, all things are done in parables:
that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand
Here Jesus says that even the things he does, his exorcisms, his exclusion of his blood family, are parables.
Those who are the outsiders are not only the Jews, but also those from Idumea, beyond Jordan, Tyre and Sidon — that is, the Gentiles — are as much outsiders as those from Galilee and Jerusalem:
And Jesus with his disciples withdrew to the sea: and a great multitude from Galilee followed; and from Judaea, and from Jerusalem, and from Idumaea, and beyond the Jordan, and about Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, hearing what great things he did, came unto him. And he spake to his disciples, that a little boat should wait on him because of the crowd, lest they should throng him . . . (Mark 3:7-9)
Henrik Tronier does not question the historicity of Jesus. Such a suggestion is certainly not made in his article, and it is quite possible to think that Mark wrote a parabolic narrative about the words and deeds of Jesus without denying that there was a historical Jesus nonetheless. Tronier writes:
Mark is a text about hermeneutics in the form of the proper understanding of Christ, which is developed in allegorical form at the same time as it maintains the basic historicity of the story, just as Philo did.
The historicity that Philo maintained was that of Abraham and Moses.
My own view is that if the deeds and words of Jesus were done and said to confuse or mystify outsiders, and that even the twelve disciples in this Gospel proved themselves to be outsiders by the end, having betrayed and denied their Master before men, then what basis do we have left for even asking if those same deeds and words were historical?
Jesus cannot even be said to be a true human in this Gospel. He is introduced to readers as being possessed by the Spirit of God as it fell from heaven torn apart. Readers are informed that from this moment Jesus is now the Son of God. This Spirit then casts him out into the wilderness where he engages with Satan and is sustained by angels. So the reader knows that Jesus is not a man, but God in a man. No-one else in the narrative ever knows this. Jesus stilling the storm demonstrates to readers that Jesus is the manifestation of the power of God at creation when the forces of chaos were subdued with a word, a theme that is repeated in several subsequent narratives (Exodus, Elisha, Jonah) and appears several times in the Psalms and Job. Peter’s “confession” that Jesus is the Christ is on a par with the understanding of the demons who also acknowledge this. Jesus soon afterwards calls him Satan when it is apparent that he misconstrues the Christ as a conquering king instead of a suffering servant. Hence his denial of even knowing Jesus at the moment of his trial.
Jesus ambiguously tells his disciples in his parable chapter that the mystery of the kingdom had been given to them, but Matthew and Luke were disturbed enough by the ambiguity to change that to having Jesus declaring that the disciples “understood” that mystery. But Mark nowhere says this much.
And he said unto them, Unto you is given the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all things are done in parables (Mark 4:9)
Compare Matthew 13:11 (and Luke 8:10)
And he answered and said unto them, Unto you it is given to know (ginosko) the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
We may conclude that others in Mark’s day recognized some of what Mark saying and did not like it.
The Gospel narrative proceeds to follow well-recognized patterns of numerology, ‘topography, geography, travels, spatial markers and personifications.’ These are not the normal cues indicative of historical narratives. They speak of fiction. If such patterns are found in a story that is structured along lines very similar to the structures found in Hellenistic novels, poems and plays rather than those that more usually belong to works of history (even ancient historiography) — and I believe that is the case with Mark’s Gospel — then surely it is foolishness to even think the Gospel can be mined for anything “historical” at all.
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54 thoughts on “The acts and words (and person?) of Jesus as Parables in the Gospel of Mark”
I think, one way or the other, the two quotations from Isaiah in Mark 1 and 4 are keys to authorial intent. The one at 4:12 even in its context in Isaiah, used to perplex me mightily. But I think I get it now. It’s a way of expressing an idea common to mystics in all times and places, maybe summed up best in Taoism: “that which can be named is not the Tao”. It’s saying, in clumsier language, that piety, the Way, the Tao, righteousness, however the concept is expressed in a given tradition, is not going to be an easy path, and there is no magic formula or simple instruction could ever be sufficient to guarantee it. The passage in Isaiah can be paraphrased: “Look around and see how unrighteous the people are. If the Way of the Lord could be simply explained, they wouldn’t be this way, they would be pious. Since they’re not, it can’t be simply explained.”
I don’t know. The next verses in Isaiah seem to confirm that Yahweh’s intent is simultaneously to warn the people and to make sure they don’t understand that warning.
“Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, And the LORD have removed men far away, and [there be] a great forsaking in the midst of the land.”
Is this Jesus’ intent, too? Is Mark saying that he (Jesus) revealed the truth to a select few, hiding it from the crowd, so that when the harvest comes, most people will be counted among the tares and be thrown into the fire?
Or is he (Mark) explaining to his readers why Jerusalem was destroyed? The latter might be a better fit. The Romans marched on Jerusalem and destroyed the temple, reminding everyone of the events of 586 BCE. The prophets had warned Israel; they had warned Judah. Jesus, Mark says, warned Judea; however, nobody understood, and this result was by design. In all three cases, Yahweh was delivering his just and unavoidable punishment.
Well, I think the linkage between the Roman seige of Jerusalem and the events of 586 BCE is there, too.
But I read the prophets generally as treating theodicy. Given an all-powerful and righteous supernatural figure such as Yahweh, the shepherd of the faithful, why is the flock always getting screwed? And if the people don’t get the message that could save them, isn’t it so that God made them that way?
“…isn’t it so that God made them that way?”
For that very reason, I view King Saul and Moses’ Pharaoh as tragic characters that rival Lear, Othello, and Oedipus. The fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves — except that we were made that way.
Given an all-powerful and righteous supernatural figure such as Yahweh, the shepherd of the faithful, why is the flock always getting screwed? And if the people don’t get the message that could save them, isn’t it so that God made them that way?
Those were the same kinds of questions the Gnostics generally asked. And they came up with some interesting mythologies showing this creator god not to be the true god or source, but rather a bumbling, foolish, capricious, and sometimes evil demiurge.
Interestingly this idea appears to have been mutated from the philosophers of the day. The idea of a Demiurge goes back to Plato, but some later philosophers developed this Demiurge into a more literal entity with negative connotations. The religious idea was a reflection and then further development of the contemporary philosophical systems deriving ultimately from Plato.
Oh, yes. Whether literal or mythological, the demiurge took on various interpretations. Neoplatonist Plotinus was one in particular, however, who disliked the religious speculations. Whereas some might have thought of the Gnostics as too philosophical, Plotinus considered them too irrational and basically guilty of distorting Plato’s philosophy.
It sort of reminds me that some of the most vicious confrontation can occur in sibling rivalry.
Anyway, if we can see any Platonic influence in Mark, I doubt Plotinus would have approved.
My neurons are getting knotted.
Tronier argues Mark uses the sorts of analogies that Philo used, which are Platonic: that is, there is both a reality above and a counterpart reality (positive or negative) below. And that Mark is more or less following Paul here. And Philo was opposed to Stoics and their sorts of analogies.
Engberg-Pedersen argues Paul was influenced by Stoicism, that traces back to Plato’s rival, Aristotle. And Stoic analogies were really substitutional: a reality was substituted by/analogous to an imaginary, fictional construct.
I hate it when scholars disagree. It means I am left to falling back on thinking for myself.
I’m beginning to favour the Engberg-Pedersen — and Stoic — model for both Paul and Mark. But when I get around to testing Engberg-Pedersen’s model against the Walker and Munro arguments for interpolations and discover that E-P’s thesis breaks down because it relies on arguable interpolations, I guess I’ll sway back to Tronier’s thoughts.
Well, syncretistic and/or eclectic influences are not always clear-cut.
For instance, Neil, just to confuse things more, you have mentioned a Basilides link with the Gospel of Mark.
From Bentley Layton’s The Gnostic Scriptures, p. 417:
So, I’m getting fuzzy since it’s almost 1:00 a.m. here. I’ll think more about all this. It’s quite interesting.
Okay, a few more work-in-progress thoughts…
First, unknot your neurons, Neil. Otherwise, reading further will only serve to provide more neurological pain.
I like what Tronier has to say. But after reading his conclusion, I’m left wondering how to successfully train our knotted neurons to view Mark outside traditional theology reliant on Mark’s place within a canon:
Would Mark (and Paul) have cared about being considered a root for what is no longer a young plant but a sprawling overgrowth in the garden? If they could time travel, would they heatedly comment not only on NT blogs, but also various gnostic, Marcionite, and other blogs about how they don’t appreciate not be respected for their own theologies that back then were part of a great number of plant species in the garden? Or maybe they wouldn’t mind people reading whatever they wanted into their words, after all.
While pigeonholing Mark and Paul into one theological camp or another might be a disservice, we might also consider whether we need to decide on one philosophical influence over another. As Bentley Layton pointed out with Basilides, there was an eclectic smorgasbord.
Actually, if we do consider theologies that were associated with Mark and Paul outside traditional Christian theology, we can find even more support for philosophical influence without assigning Mark or Paul to any particular theology under discussion.
In other words, if a Basilides school had a link to Mark, then Mark might have easily accommodated their philosophical eclecticism in some way.
The same goes for Valentinian schools and their association with Paul. Valentinians managed to provide their own interpretations of Paul’s letters (those generally considered authentic) without difficulty and without (hopefully) resorting to writing bogus letters supposedly authored by Paul in order to bolster their theological needs. I find this interesting in light of how Tronier categorized Paul (and Mark) as writing with “low-tech” Platonic hermeneutics. Valentinians were Platonically “high-tech”, and easily provided “high-tech” exegesis of Paul. That doesn’t make Paul gnostic, but it does beg the question as to how many philosophical levels of interpretation are viable in Paul.
Actually, when considering that we only have one extant gospel of Mark that we know of, it becomes difficult to determine exactly what Mark’s intentions were. For instance, if we only had one writing of Valentinians, such as The Gospel of Truth, we might be tearing out hair out trying to reconcile a strong Stoic cosmology with a strong antimaterialist message. We also have to consider the audience to which this sermon is directed. A general, more traditional audience? Or a more elite one?
We could ask similar questions about Mark. If the audience is supposed to be “in-the-know”, at what level(s)? A “low-tech” Platonic? Should we add a “high-tech” possibility? Do we see evidence for interest in cosmogony. At what level? Etc.
I’m guilty of too many questions and not enough answers, but at least by considering various competing Christian theologies using the same scriptures, we can look at what seems more viable across the board, philosophically.
These are good questions. It looks like the victorious wing of Christianity has committed the perfect crime by removing or allowing the loss of all traces of the origins of this gospel, with Eusebius finally sealing this emptiness with that nonsense from Papias.
What is surely the biggest Markan irony of all is that so many “historians” ignore its literary structures and read it as literally as possible — the very type of interpretation that the text itself condemns as “hearing but hearing not”!
Perfect crime seems a bit organized. Mark itself was the least used Gospel among early Christians after the release of Matthew, Luke, and John and the only thing that saved mark from being someones hypothetical common source for Luke-Matthew is A. it was deemed part of a cannon of scripture B. it survived long enough to make it to a time where Christians wrote commentaries on earlier works. My theory is any proto-markan material was rare and fell out of use early on before Christians where writing about the books they were using. I always use “The Perfect Crime” as an argument of last resort, when all less complicated options have been eliminated.
I should have placed “perfect crime” in quotation marks. I was attempting to draw an analogy — “looks like” — not convey what I think was a literal “crime”.
Nonetheless, we do know that there was a strong interest on the part of the winning faction to suppress or ignore evidence that stood contrary to their interests.
Ever since Wrede it is clear that the 12 disciples do not behave like any human beings ever would.
Gosh, Moses returns from the dead, and this is not a huge talking point in early Christianity. Imagine if Muhammad appeared to Muslims today, and Muslims kept quiet about it for 30 years.
Of course, sensible Biblical historians discount the return of Moses as that is supernatural, and so is not historical.
There seems to be an assumption that if you remove the blatantly non-historical from a work, then what remains must be historical.
Just like if you remove the blatantly Christian interpolations from Josephus, then what remains cannot be Christian interpolation.
This is just fallacious.
If Mark could suddenly conjure up appearances by Moses , then he was not constrained by mere historical fact.
“If Mark could suddenly conjure up appearances by Moses , then he was not constrained by mere historical fact.”
Wouldn’t the New Testament scholars claim that they really historically saw Moses’ ghost on the mount of transfiguration in an ecstatic religious experience? and that since the text says they saw it, therefore it is historical? because anything a text says is historical, unless the text is not orthodox Christian.
They’re a wide range of people studying the NT, many of them are not super-naturalist. I’m not sure scholar would apply to many of those who would entertain the prospect of Jesus talking to the actual Moses on a mountain. For instance would Robert Price “claim that they really historically saw Moses’ ghost on the mount of transfiguration in an ecstatic religious experience?” But even as a generality it is a gross mis-characterization of the field. I admit that my first impression of mythisist came from the Zeitgeist crowd, but I have seen some folks who back the hypothesis who have put good thought into it.
I think you somehow missed the point.
Neil, thanks for some of the clarifications. I was getting the impression that some here felt that if a story was presented as having a moral or other sort of artificial meaning, then it had to be fictional. That was confusing since true stories are presented as morality tales all the time. For instance the sinking of the Titanic is often presented as some kind of parable on hubris, but I’m certain that the sinking of the Titanic is a real event and not just a parable.
“My own view is that if the deeds and words of Jesus were done and said to confuse or mystify outsiders, and that even the twelve disciples in this Gospel proved themselves to be outsiders by the end, having betrayed and denied their Master before men, then what basis do we have left for even asking if those same deeds and words were historical?”
I’m not sure what to make of this. I could say that anyone’s deeds and words were committed to mystify out siders, I’m not sure how that would fictionalize the the words and deeds. Dan brown thinks there is a code in “Last Supper” but yet it still on the wall it was painted on, not becoming part of the fictional imaginings of the “Da Vinci Code”. I certainly doubt much of what Mark reports, but I like most readers have missed the cue that I am to take this as fictional literature. I have been looking for a scholar who argues this but haven’t found one yet, but I’m sure there out there. If you know of any good ones let me know.
I did take some time today to read some of Philo’s “Life of Moses”. This was an interesting case, because it seems that Philo would like to educate the reader about actual Moses, presumable gentile readers. what was interesting is Philo, who has no conduit to the events of Moses’ life beyond what he has read has felt free to invent dialog for Moses. At no time does Philo inform the reader that he is now creating fiction or that his narrative is not to be taken as an actual account of the life of Moses, but rather an imaginative retelling, which it is, unless we are willing to believe that the learned elders of Israel, along with the legendary accounts of Moses great learning, also remembered his words to the Midian girls.
I already told you two books, Mike. On the “Make a Path” post. While both Mack and Myers believe there was a historical person behind nascent Christianity’s conception of their savior figure, both of them view Mark as a substantially fictional original composition, written to dramatize the author’s theology, not as any kind of attempt at biographical reportage.
You could add Crossan to the list too. The only historical event he thinks is reported in the gospels is the crucifixion.
Add Kelber, Fowler, Dart, Miller, Tolbert, Farmer and no doubt many others. The idea is far from novel. Probably any author who discusses Mark as literature.
Kelber is still a leading light, and has published a very slim easy to read summary in Mark’s Story of Jesus.
Add Randal Helms to this. He has the best understanding of the Gospels I’ve seen. His expertise is literature and not religion. If you take the Gospels as primarily literature the explanations are relatively simple. If you take the Gospels as primarily based on historical witness the explanations are relatively complicated.
And Kermode, The Genesis of Secrecy. But “independent scholars” are known to poo-pooh Kermode because his area of expertise is literature. Well, Mark is “literature”, is it not? For some reason “independents” prefer to bypass Mark as literature and read “the Aramaic text” from which it supposedly derived.
I suppose that’s what gets under my skin the most while reading Casey. It’s bad enough that he thinks he has a greater understanding of the NT than Bultmann (which is just too pathetic even to laugh at); it’s that he tries to return Mark to the status of stumpy-fingered, dim-witted stenographer.
Mark was a master storyteller, experimenting with a breathless, fast-paced, present-tense, colloquial-sounding style that reminds me of such modern works as Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity. And that’s just the surface! There’s the masterful structure with the Markan Sandwiches, the sudden beginning, the even more sudden ending.
I’ll admit that recently I was starting to wonder if we moderns are guilty of over-analyzing Mark, the way that characters in Being There read more into Chance the Gardener than was really there (or did they?). Lately for me, though, pendulum has swung the other way. Mark was no scribbler, bending over Aramaic wax tablets, squinting at the text. He was a genius.
I have had the same worries — fearing we are seeing way too much in him. But art, meanings and structure do not fall into place by accident. And when multiple scholars see the same patterns and art we can be confident we are looking at something more than subjectively induced shapes in a cloud. We can see how Matthew and Luke seem to be very aware of what Mark is doing and deliberately undermined it with their changes. It was too philosophical, unhistorical, for their liking. Their birth narratives destroy Mark’s intent from the very beginning. For Mark there was a reason that Jesus’ story had to begin (and end) with a “baptism”. For Mark, the Son of God was never a human child but came into the world (as a personification, like Wisdom, Sophia) directly from heaven as the Spirit of God.
MacDonald is surely right when he argues that Mark’s “primitive Greek” is a deception, part of the metaphor itself. He sees it as an “anti-epic” style. Others have seen it as a conscious effort to convey the message in the idiom of natural (not written) speech. Australian counterparts would be C.J. Dennis and Peter Carey’s “The Kelly Gang”.
Added some time after the above:
As for Casey’s arguments against Bultmann, you have chosen the appropriate descriptors. I would like to think that this little “independent scholar” flurry will pass like a momentary bad dream in which we felt ourselves falling for a second into a bottomless pit. It really will pass, won’t it? No-one is going to be persuaded by the arguments, are they?
I was reading Gospel Fictions earlier, so far so good. I’ll have to wait till x-mas break to finish it.
A question though, so far he seems to assume historicity for Jesus, John the Baptist and Peter and freely draws on legendary material to provide information about them. For instance he says Peter’s speech in Acts isn’t Peter’s because tradition held Peter needed an interpreter to communicate in Greek. This isn’t for you so much JW but Neil, wouldn’t Helms be a poor scholar for this by your standards?
It’s a long time since I read Helms and you have given me no detail of his argument. Would you like to give a page reference? But why ask me and not the general pool of anyone willing to comment?
Helms will have to wait till the end of the Thanksgiving holiday. I direct to you, because my post are always to someone, and I don’t how Joseph feels about historians using these sort of friend of friend and hearsay reports. I’ve been wondering if there is an issue with NT historians using sources that others won’t and so I make a note of whenever someone uses anonymous and legendary accounts as evidence of anything.
It depends how the sources are used (their specific function in the argument), and what else is used and how.
I’m not that familiar with Myers work, but both Mack and Crossan believe in a historic Jesus which would make Mark a bit less of a fiction than I think Neil is arguing. Again I absolutely believe that Theology is Mark’s main purpose, and quite a bit, if not most, is invention by Mark or someone else. My contention is that some of it involves real people, notably it’s central figure, and it was intended to be taken as events or interpretations of events in his actual life. How much of what is the issue.
The historical Jesus question does not arise as such in literary studies as a rule. Certainly Kelbar and others “believe” in a historical Jesus. But their analysis of Mark’s Gospel is that it is a parabolic or symbolic or whatever tale, and not historical.
When these scholars speak of an historical Jesus I sometimes wonder if they are simply repeating the mantra to assure their colleagues they have not gone over the edge. But their literary analysis leaves Mark made up of metaphors, theology, etc and with no historical anchor to speak of.
One can believe in a historical Jesus, yet also believe Mark is fiction. Mark simply does not portray that historical Jesus. It is fiction. It makes no sense as history or biography even on a superficial reading. 5 disciples simply drop everything and leave their homes and livelihoods when Jesus walks up and says “Follow me!”? It only works as history if you ignore what it says and imagine it meant to say something else. This is how scholars generally rationalize it. Casey does this. Mark says the heavens split apart and the Spirit fell down into Jesus. Casey rewrites that to say that Jesus had a “typically Jewish vision” of this happening. But Mark does not say it was a vision at all. It was a reality. Casey destroys the story and its meaning by historicizing it. Most HJ scholars do this. Rationalizing and removing the supernatural does not give us historicity; it merely destroys the stories we have — thus Thompson.
Remember the final words of the Revelation of Saint John the Divine: He who adds to or takes away any of these words will be damned forever in the lake of fire!
What do call historical? I use it in a few senses. One is as in a historians work, but I also use it to mean something based on history. For instance, I wouldn’t use Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” as a history text, but I wouldn’t say the resemblances between the events and person in it and any real events or persons living or dead are purely coincidental.
Mark is about theology, about having the correct understanding of Jesus as a divine figure. It is not history. History is what happened. I go so far to say — I think Tronier says something like this, too — that every word in Mark is there as part of the theological message. There is nothing that is left over to tell readers “what happened” in history. You said you can’t see the theological point of details about Jesus’ family, John the Baptist, etc, but the authors that have been cited here show the theological significance of all of those. They are all loaded with theological rhetoric and metaphor.
Mark’s geography, place-names, itinerary of Jesus, names, numbers, sea-voyages, descent from Caesarea Philippi to Jerusalem, the doublets, — all scream out for fictional (metaphorical etc) meaning. Mark himself hits the readers with this: the characters have no idea what is going on in the story, only the readers; Mark tells the readers to understand; he shows that the healings and blindnesses are symbolic of what is happening to the disciples. It is all a fictional tale, symbolic to the core.
HJ scholars raise the question why Jesus never preached in the major cities of Galilee like Sepphoris and Tiberius. The reason is they did not have appropriately symbolical names, like Capernaum, the place of “comfort”. This is where Jesus addresses his “church congregations”. Again, what makes no sense as history is explained completely as literary/theological artifice.
Even Galilee itself is charged with symbolism that was prefigured in Isaiah. It is the borderline area between Jews and gentiles, and its northernmost point is Mount Hermon, the place where heaven traditionally meets earth. Many scholars acknowledge Galilee represents the heavenly kingdom. Jerusalem is the symbol of this earth, all that is opposed to Jesus Christ. These understandings are found throughout the literary analyses of Mark.
Sure scholars say there was a historical Jesus behind it all, but stop and think about what they are spelling out in their literary analysis, and one can only ask where they find room for that historical Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. They explain everything as a literary and ideological creation.
The historical Jesus claim that they make does not fit. It is an assumption, an assertion, and nothing else that I can see.
Paul never heard of Galilee as far as we can tell. Mark introduces Galilee for symbolic reasons and it is from him that the story stuck and grew. Galilee began as a metaphor for the kingdom of God and became historicized just the same way Mark’s metaphorical Jesus character became historicized.
We know what sources Shakespeare used for his historical plays. We have nothing comparable for Mark. Mark is more artificial in its structure than Shakespeare [e.g. the dualities, the inclusions, the symbolic names and numbers, etc], even more strongly suggesting artificial creation from the beginning.
But if all we had about Julius Caesar was Shakespeare’s play then we would have no reason to think JC was historical. The fact that there really was a JC would mean nothing if we had no evidence for his historicity.
Thank you for the lengthy reply, in terms of time spent, you are becoming a major focus of my free time. On the first couple of paragraphs, I will start by saying i haven’t seen all or most, or even many of the arguments that have been likely made toward some thing or someone meaning this or that. I am skeptical however of “metaphorical-overdrive” the tendency to see every detail as meaning something else’s.
For instance note the parable of the sower as presented in G.Thomas 9 and Mark’s version, mark feels the need to have the “secret explanation” so all the details have there own allegory, in G.Thomas the meaning is simply most seed is wasted but the seed that grows makes a bumper crop. I’ve heard some terrible over allegorising from some Baptist preachers. More to the point, “(We later learn that his brothers are named Jacob, Joseph, Judah and Simeon: “the names themselves convey a close identification with the nation’s foundational past”, comparable to a family of Olsens being given names Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and Franklin, according to Paula Fredriksen in Jesus of Nazareth, p. 240.)” Yep, and all the many people from other accounts of the period(and there is a period to our story)with those names also had their names due to close identification with the nation’s foundational past. it would be more interesting if Jesus had, like 12 brothers each with a name of a tribe of Israel or something like that.
Mark’s geography may scream to some, but it seems that they convey the idea that the story takes place in Palestine, there is that pattern going on. And if Galilee is heaven what of those Galilean towns that reject Jesus? I know there is an explanation somewhere of course, but there is always a way to make a shoe fit. And isn’t Jerusalem also a major city in Palestine?
Along the same line, what about Pilate, I’m sure he has a symbolic role in the story, how could any one in any narrative fictional or historical not? but he seems to be an actual person, even if the material in Josephus is a forgery by later Christians, I think there are other sources on him, but I may be mistaken there.
“Galilee began as a metaphor for the kingdom of God and became historicized just the same way Mark’s metaphorical Jesus character became historicized.”??? Are you saying Galilee is a mythical location or the metaphorical Jesus has been grafted over the “real” one?
“We know what sources Shakespeare used for his historical plays. We have nothing comparable for Mark. Mark is more artificial in its structure than Shakespeare [e.g. the dualities, the inclusions, the symbolic names and numbers, etc], even more strongly suggesting artificial creation from the beginning.”
Have nothing and is nothing are different concepts, we can speculate on mark as a complete and original work in the mind of Mark, but the possibility of Mark using sources has to be left open a a meaningful way. Particular when looking at Luke and Matthew and the way they used mark, Mark’s 1st gospel status is tentative.
“But if all we had about Julius Caesar was Shakespeare’s play then we would have no reason to think JC was historical. The fact that there really was a JC would mean nothing if we had no evidence for his historicity.”
“All we had” is a good imagination game to play. For instance if the play JC was all we had, and someone concluded from the play that there was no JC, because this is clearly a work of fiction they would be wrong. A clever person may be able to deduce the correct answer. An artificial literary setting cannot guarantee any historical status for a subject. A presumption can be made, I’m not looking for any two gentlemen from Verona, but every individual case could potentially merit it’s own investigation. John Wilkes Booth is more likely than Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is more likely than Hercules, now Hercules may be less likely than Gilgamesh, but that Gilgamesh certainly didn’t kill the Bull of Heaven. God history is weird.
The arguments for Mark’s details being allegorical etc are not as random or subjective as you are suggesting here. In blog posts I might cover just one small point, but the full explanations require full length book treatments. A number of us have attempted to point out that criteria and controlled analyses are used, not fanciful speculations. The arguments are scholarly. I cannot cover all the details you ask for here. Maybe over time in various posts I can, but before I do that why not read Weeden (Traditions in Conflict) or Kelber (Mark’s Story of Jesus) — both short books — and you will see many of the answers to questions you ask here fall into place. (Yes, both authors “believe” in a historical Jesus. But look at the logic of their arguments for the metaphors in Mark!)
If all we had was Shakespeare, and someone concluded that JC was historical, they would come to an invalid conclusion. It is quite “possible” that Jesus secretly married Mary Magdalene, too, but we have no evidence so any conclusion in that direction must be invalid, too. If one day we discover a school remains in Nazareth dated to around 10 ce, and a preserved graffiti saying JC loves MM, and a report card addressed to Joseph and Mary praising JC’s superior knowledge of everything, then we will have a reason to think Jesus was there. Till then, we would be wrong to believe anything other than what the evidence tells us — that the story is fiction.
When I did Maths tests at school, the teacher was looking to see how we arrived at our answers. It was made clear to us that we could get more marks for using the right methods even though we ended up with a wrong answer, than if we produced the right answer but failed to account for how we arrived at it. The latter always meant we failed that particular exercise.
If one day we discover rabbit skeletons in the Cambrian then we will know that evolution is bunkum and there is a God after all.
I have a holiday break coming up, and will try to get a hold of your recommended books and get back with you after reading. On Shakespeare, what we have in addition is important. In the case of JC, we would have to look at how other writers touch on the subject of kings, how many are fictional creations, how many based on recent vs legendary kings, clues abound. in Shakespeare’s case, if we had all his works and not just JC, one may notice that he does write stories about real English Kings, thus his Roman ones may be real people to. of course if the only known works in the world were Shakespeare’s then, yes outside of any context we wouldn’t know what he was talking about. James Calvert wasn’t lucky about Troy, he was good at judging the historical worth of a text.
To use the grounds you use here to think that Shakespeare “may be” writing about a “real” JC too is only a truism. Anything is possible. It is possible that there was a real Jesus behind Mark. But that is like saying it is possible there is intelligent life on other planets. We are only speculating, playing with possibilities.
Historical investigation demands a bit more than speculative possibilities.
No I am not suggesting Galilee is a fictional place. I was speaking of Mark’s decision to use it as the setting for Jesus’ preaching and miracles! Its theological meaning was established in Isaiah.
No I am not suggesting Pilate might be fictional. Pilate was a real historical person. But that does not mean the rest of the story is historical. Fiction was written about Alexander the Great, too. That does not mean Alexander was a fictional person.
Scholarly literary analysis is not about ticking off a long list of names (personal, geographic) and seeing what meaning each might convey. That’s not how it works at all. There are principles, methods, literary structural patterns and meanings into which the details fall into place.
Galilee is the place where Jesus appears as God — the master over demons, the ruler of the seas, the glorified son to whom the Father speaks directly from heaven — and the kingdom of God, as Mark explains in the parables, is a place where there are mixed responses. The Kingdom has come in the person of Jesus, and only a handful (the readers, really, not the characters in the Gospel) actually “get it”.
Once Jesus goes to Jerusalem Mark’s theme changes. Jesus is suddenly portrayed as the suffering servant, the helpless lamb led to the slaughter. All his earlier glory is replaced by shame and death. He is only restored to his God-like status — and returned to Galilee! — when resurrected. This is not history. This is a metaphorical tale.
I’ve never done a literary review of a modern history book. I wonder what literary effects historians use in their books? As for the ancient ones, they are fond of using literary tricks. I don’t think they would be published as scholarly history today, but they still get cited a lot. Mark is a few steps lower still, a bit like a hagiography.
For instance “the Book of Margery Kemp”. We were given the book as a source on medieval mystics despite the books author being virtually anonymous, and the main subject being unknown to outside history. But the book abounds in noteworthy people of the time and real places and events. Despite the warning that “But we have no actual proof that the book is any truer than any fiction rooted in a social reality.” from the Book of Margery Kemp, Norton Critical Edition, Lynn Staley, translator.
Our class used it as source on a medieval mystic, the book also treats it as a biography, but warns against assuming to much of the book, It is the presented as the account of a woman given to a priest decades after there occurrence and often involving her visions of god. But no work I consulted dismissed it as being impossible to access historically, that we must take it only as literature. And while it can’t be proven to be factual, it doesn’t read like fiction. Imagine an an old person with mental illness giving their life story, it would have to be held in doubt, but it couldn’t be said you still know nothing about their life.
Mark is something of the same deal. It isn’t history, but it would constitute historical evidence, like a piece of pottery. Since it uses known historical people and places as metaphors, then it is logical to assume some other figures, that are not referred to in non Christian sources, may also be historical, and that some of the stories may be allusions to real, historical events. It would be quite a claim to say only the characters we must accept as historical figure were but others less well attested to must be pure literary creation. We don’t have the evidence to establish that with certainty in many cases. Back to your space analogy, not having evidence of life on a planet does not mean the planet is uninhabitable only “?”. To make a stronger claim we need more evidence.
It is completely legitimate to ask what is true and what is not, based on how the author handles the events, how other authors used it, how wide spread the they are, its likely hood as a real or literary event etc.
If we have no evidence for the existence of X (e.g. Bottom or Falstaff or Polonius or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern or Dardanius in Shakespeare’s plays) then we have no evidence for X’s existence.
I think you missed what was written earlier.
Have fiddled with the Tronier link in the post and hopefully it is working now for all systems. Let me know if it doesn’t open, still.
Neil I just ordered Willi Marxsen’s (the fundies will love that name, Glenn Beck, look out!) Introduction to the New Testament where he argues that “Mark” started with the Passion story and worked backwards. As an evangelical B rejects this but does confess that it is supported by the Passion being the background for all of “Mark”. I think the Passion story is “Mark’s” original creation since it includes all of “Mark’s” literary styles. I agree though that I think “Mark” started with Paul’s emphasis of the Passion but also started with Paul’s discrediting of historical witness. “Mark” just gave flesh to these Themes of Paul.
My suspicion is that this idea of the Passion being the original Mark, or Mark having started with the Passion story and then working out from that to create the larger gospel, is proposed without awareness of the literary genres popular in first (and second!) century Hellenistic/Roman-world culture. The structure of Mark — travelog of adventures culminating at a final point where an expansive description of a climactic scene is played out — is standard fare for both popular epics and novels of the time.
I have also lost some of my resistance to the Mark-knew-Paul theory since reading Tronier. I think my resistance had been based on too close a connection of Paul’s letters with Marcion, and Mark is clearly not Marcionite (his reliance on the OT scriptures establishes this.) But Marcion was not the only one who laid claim to Paul, and a “tradition” assigns Mark to Basilides. But Tronier shows the clear philosophical/theological links between Mark’s narrative allegory and Paul’s concepts. Will post on this soon to explain — for my own benefit mainly, but also may be of some interest to anyone without time to read Tronier’s article itself.
I am not sure that I would agree that because mark is reliant on OT scripture that this would preclude Mark from the Marcionite circle.
I think that Marcion, with Paul, believed that the mystery of Christ was hidden in the scriptures and it seems that Mark viewed it pretty much the same way.
My understanding of this point is based on R. Joseph Hoffmann’s thesis. I don’t have the details on hand at the moment (maybe in a few weeks) but the conclusion is that Marcion taught that the Jewish Scriptures were about the God of the Jews/this world, not of the true Alien (Unknown) God. They prophesied of an earthly Davidic messiah who would restore the earthly kingdom to the Jews. This was all very fine for the Jews, but it was not about the Christ sent from the Alien and supreme God. The Jewish God was a judgmental and temperamental God, the Alien God was pure love. Marcion attempted to excise the OT passages from Paul’s letters, believing them to have been interpolations and contrary to the “true gospel” Paul taught.
Some suggest Mark was Marcion’s gospel, but a central passage in Marcion’s gospel was the parable of the two trees/good and bad fuit. This is not in Mark; Marcion’s gospel is also understood to have begun with Jesus coming down (from heaven?) to Capernaum in the 15th year of Tiberius — a detail only found in Luke. (Luke’s description of Jesus moving from Nazareth to Capernaum says he “came/went ‘down'” to Capernaum. If Nazareth has been added, along with the birth narratives, as it seems to have been, given that it opens up a number of anomalies in the text — e.g. people questioning Jesus’ miracles before he had done any! — then the original may have been the Marcionite gospel opener.)
I do not think that Mark was necessarily Marcion’s gospel. However, I do think that Marcion, with Paul, viewed the OT scriptures as the source of knowledge regarding the Christ. I agree that Marcion believed that the Christ was different from the Jewish messiah and that they came from distinct gods, but that his coming was nonetheless prophesied, though hidden, in those very scriptures, of course, unbeknown to the god of the Jews, the demiurge.
BTW, I do not think that Marcion removed OT passages from Paul. I think that the Orthodoxy added to Paul, while with creating the pseudo Paulines and canonical Luke/Acts.
Regarding Peter crying at his “trial” first read my award winning post Who Shot JFK? (Jesus F. Krist):
to bring yourself up to speed.
“Mark” is giving flesh to Paul’s son of mantra “crucify your passions”
“Galatians 5:24 And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof.”
Note that in the Teaching & Healing Ministry Jesus is the one with the Passions. He is shown as ANGRY for Christ’s sake at the beginning and ending of his Galilean Ministry (This Argument from Theme is probably the best evidence for “anger” at 1:41). In order for “Mark’s” Jesus to crucify his Passions during the Passion, he must first have Passions to crucify. Understand dear Reader? It is everyone else that does not show much emotion during the Teaching & Healing Ministry.
During the Passion “Mark” flips the emotions and while Jesus crucifies his Passions (accomplished by prayer at the G-spot, “Oh God, oh God, Oh God!”) all others display their Passions. Note that during the Passion Jesus’ Passions are gradually crucified to the point of silence while his Opposition, “The Jews” and “Peter”, are gradually inflamed to shouting/crying. This is best illustrated during the dual trials of Jesus/Peter. Note that while Jesus is stoic against Paul’s “rulers of the age” Peter has a complete breakdown in front of the lowest authority, a female servant. Perhaps Mikeloso can think of a possible lower authority here.
Regarding Peter crying:
“Mark 14:66 And as Peter was beneath in the court, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest;
Mark 14:67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and saith, Thou also wast with the Nazarene, [even] Jesus.
Mark 14:68 But he DENIED, saying, I neither know, nor understand what thou sayest: and he went out into the porch; and the cock crew.
Mark 14:69 And the maid saw him, and began again to say to them that stood by, This is [one] of them.
Mark 14:70 But he again denied it. And after a little while again they that stood by said to Peter, of a truth thou art [one] of them; for thou art a Galilaean.
Mark 14:71 But he began to CURSE, and to SWEAR, I know not this man of whom ye speak.
Mark 14:72 And straightway the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word, how that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he WEPT.”
Note the PROGRESSIVE passion of Peter, deny, curse, swear and weep. The context makes it clear that the reason for weeping here is that Peter is now confessing his failure to Jesus because that is what is tied to the crying, Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s failure. There is no repentance here or regret. Peter is mourning his failure and not Jesus. Ironically the faithful take the crying here as a key piece of evidence that Peter rehabilitated. If this was intended though Peter could have made a declaration here to the female servant or shown up for the rest of the Gospel. In accordance with A’s definition of GT, Peter’s crying is cathartic, a release of pent up Passions. But it’s healing for the audience and not Peter.
Note the offending Greek word here:
with a common meaning of mourning for the dead. “Mark’s” other use of the same word was mourning for the dead (5:38). Peter is likewise mourning for the dead, his own soul.
On a related side note I’ve started a Thread at FRDB:
that asks if “Mark” is really ungrammatical as is often said. The legendary Vorkosigan points out that if “Mark” was written to be performed this could explain the occasional change in inflections in the same sentence which would be unusual for written but more likely
“Understand dear Reader?”
I don’t think there is anything to understand here, I don’t think there is a message in here about curbing ones passions. It doesn’t seem that Mark is showing Jesus earlier behavior as inappropriate. his attitude in the Passion its self seems like resignation to fate ending in a cry of despair. That Jesus’ emotions are commented on more than other characters doesn’t strike me as odd given the subject of the book.
“There is no repentance here or regret. Peter is mourning his failure and not Jesus.”
As we see in Matthews treatment of Judas, remorse is no guarantee of forgiveness, and peters action is ambiguous. We can assume he is very unhappy, but that he “is likewise mourning for the dead, his own soul.”, cannot be assumed from the text, and the word used is used by other writers outside of meaning mourning for the dead, if your link is accurate. I’m no expert on Greek. Given the other information form mark, Peter’s rehabilitation seems assured, and this scene Peters ordeal contrasting Jesus’ shows the high regard the author has for Peter. Given how much Paul goes on about his own experience of forgiveness from terrible crimes against Jesus, this also establishes the power of Jesus’ resurrection to transform lives.
While you may argue that this requires the reader to know something other than Mark, it is certain that they did. Nothing about this book suggest an anti Peterine position, thus I am confident they would be aware of the position of authority he had. Other authors make the reinstatement of Peter explicit, but it is not necessary if you have a good understanding of Peter, and as I explained it is unlikely that Marks readers would be unaware of who Peter is nor regard him as a false apostle.
I will have to get back to FRBD soon. On the performance of Mark, it’s a while since I read Shiner’s ‘Proclaiming the Gospel’ and Horsley’s ‘Performing the Gospel’ — and Vork’s page, of course. I find Bilezikian’s comparison of Mark with tragedies that were written for reading and not for performance worth seriously considering. But the grammatical problems with Mark cover a wide range of issues, and the over-use of the ‘ands’ and the ‘begans’ would seem to me to favour the view that it is written in the idiom of everyday natural speech. But I simply don’t know enough about Greek to be definite in this sort of discussion. I’m still attracted to MacDonald’s suggestion that as an anti-epic this was the style (or absence of style) chosen for the appropriate effect.
We have that apparent stage-direction in Gethsemane, but don’t we have a similar constuction — but that does not fit a stage direction in the healing of the paralytic scene?
” To the outsiders “everything (ta panta) happens (ginetai) in parables”. -cf Mark 4:11
The Gospel of Mark makes little sense if read as literal history or biography. For example, Jesus is said to have explained to his disciples that he talks in incomprehensible mysteries to the general public in order to deliver divine punishment upon them, not to educate and save them.
The Gospel narrative proceeds to follow well-recognized patterns of numerology, ‘topography, geography, travels, spatial markers and personifications.’ These are not the normal cues indicative of historical narratives. They speak of fiction. If such patterns are found in a story that is structured along lines very similar to the structures found in Hellenistic novels, poems and plays rather than those that more usually belong to works of history (even ancient historiography) — and I believe that is the case with Mark’s Gospel — then surely it is foolishness to even think the Gospel can be mined for anything “historical” at all.”
Don’t underestimate the power of the Verse. There may be history here in some form. If not straight-forward history it could be COMMENTARY on history, what was received as history or what was thought to be history. The same Source problems that make MJ possible also make HJ possible. Even if the individual stories have little or no HJ, the broader writing may. Aristotle makes clear that History as well as Poetics can have Style.
Regarding the Disciples misunderstanding note the ever present Ironic contrasting balancing style of “Mark” =
1) During the Teaching & Healing Ministry (T&H) Jesus teaches OPENLY with SECRET meaning.
2) During the Passion Ministry ————– Jesus teaches SECRETLY with OPEN meaning.
In the T & H Jesus uses literal language so it sounds literal and physical, hence his Disciples keep taking it that Way and he has to interpret that the meaning is Figurative. Not as well known is that in the P Ministry the relationship is cleverly reversed. In the P Jesus uses figurative language:
“Mark 8:31 And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
Mark 8:32 And he spake the saying OPENLY. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.”
so it sounds figurative and spiritual, hence his Disciples keep taking it that Way and he has to interpret that the meaning is Literal. Note especially “Mark’s” use of “openly” which makes clear that the context is that Jesus made clear that the Passion prediction was literal. Peter’s reaction confirms that he UNDERSTOOD exactly what Jesus meant and thus his “opposition” was based on understanding and not misunderstanding. This suggests that subsequent Disciple “misunderstanding” or lack of reaction to “Mark’s” Jesus’ Passion predictions is intended to show the historical disciples did not promote the supposed Passion rather than did not understand what Jesus was saying. This may be commentary on the historical disciples which does coordinate with Paul. Or it may be primarily Art.
As usual “Mark’s” unique use of “openly” here is evidence for his originality as it completes the ironic contrast that has been set up so well and pervades the themes of the Synoptics. Thus when M & L show disciple understanding it always seems out of place.
OP: “Jesus stilling the storm demonstrates to readers that Jesus is the manifestation of the power of God at creation when the forces of chaos were subdued with a word, a theme that is repeated in several subsequent narratives (Exodus, Elisha, Jonah) and appears several times in the Psalms and Job.”
is “subsequent” correct here?
OK, I see now: